Tag: ethics

Stephen Curry lights up basketball world

(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists web site.)

Curry Fever overtook me quietly as I sat watching my first game of Golden State Warriors playoff basketball. Before the game ended I had experienced a flashback to my days in Illinois and the Michael Jordan hysteria that gripped so many of us in the 1990s. Stephen Curry is an amazing basketball player.

I’m not a big NBA fan; it’s casual fandom for me. After Jordan, the game bored me. Then the Dallas Mavericks captured some magic, if less beautiful and exciting, but then their franchise let the guys who won them a championship go. My interest waned. I pulled for the Spurs to beat the Heat last year, but that meant watching one series of NBA playoffs out of oh so many games.

Then along comes Curry, and this marginal fan is re-energized. Sports Illustrated captured Curry’s magic – his ability to getting amazingly hot in shooting a basketball – in these words:

The uprising starts innocuously. A ragged warmup, a swollen deficit, a sidelined teammate … a hard foul, a gnawed mouthpiece … a shot off the back rim, a smirk, a correction … a wet jumper, and another, and a feeling … a pull-up in transition, a one-legged leaner, a moonbeam from 27 feet … a high-step, a shoulder-shimmy, a point to the rafters … a mandate from the court, the bench, the stands: “Give him the ball!” … coaches scrapping rotations, opponents draining timeouts, fans spilling beers … a delirious bench, a traumatized defense, a basketball arena turned tent revival … and the 6’9″, 190-pound pixie in the middle of the madness, thinking only about his read on the next pick-and-roll, because if he ever allows himself to savor any of this, it will be gone.

What makes this man tick? Lots. Faith is part of it. He said the following in his acceptance speech for this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player award:

First and foremost, I have to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for blessing me with the talents to play this game, with the family to support me, day in, day out. I’m his humble servant right now and I can’t say enough how important my faith is to who I am and how I play the game.

Curry revealed some other telling things in that speech. He thanked lots of people by name – wife, mom, dad, brother, sister, best friend, coaches, teammates, team brass – and he drilled so deep into relationships that he mentioned and commented on the equipment guy and the security man. He didn’t just slide over their names; he found them in the crowd, recalled moments of care, and laughed. Curry seems to care about people, and not just the famous and powerful.

Anyone who has seen him play knows of his distinctive salute. “I pound my chest and point to the sky; it symbolizes that I have a heart for God, something that my mom and I came up with in college,” Curry said in the MVP acceptance speech. “I do it every time I step on the court as a reminder of who I’m playing for. People should know who I represent and why I am who I am, and that’s because of my Lord and savior.”

In a video testimony on the Active Faith web site, Curry talks about how his faith life began.

My parents had us in church every Sunday, every Wednesday. It was more of a tradition at that point; I didn’t have a personal relationship with the Lord until I went to the altar call one Sunday and the youth pastor told us to make a decision for ourselves. The youth pastor told us we had to make a decision for ourselves, we couldn’t rely on our parents. It had to be a decision on our own, and that’s when I made it.

The biblical book of James notes that faith in Christ shows in how we live our lives. Too many people have “made a decision” for Christ, but have chosen not to really follow him. Curry is yet another example of what it means to be a true disciple of Christ – there is a personal decision, and then your life shows the decision has made a difference in how you live. You’re not perfect, but you want to go in God’s direction.

Ethics is about how we live our lives; Christian ethics is about how we live our lives for Christ.

Stephen Curry is playing better basketball than anyone else in the world right now, and he’s fun to watch. The rest of us are not on such a visible stage, but maybe Curry can inspire us to do our best in our part of the world and to give God the glory when we achieve.

Find your own chest pound and finger to the sky; let others know there is more to what is happening in your life than meets the eye. But remember that what we do – what others see – is also important.

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Spiritual living connects to ethical living

(This article originally appeared on the Texas Baptist web site.)

Ethical living and spiritual living are linked; they both connect the believer to the world beyond himself or herself. The spiritual connects one to God, and the ethical deals with how one lives with others.

Thessalonians 5:17 says to pray continually. Structured prayer is difficult for many of us, but we can still cultivate a spirit of continual prayer — simply praying as we go about our daily activities.

When a person “practices the presence of God,” to quote Brother Lawrence, it is as if God becomes a friend, a companion who goes with you to all places and through all moments. A cynic could say that we are only silently conversing with ourselves. Maybe so, but this internal friend often challenges us, calls us up abruptly from selfish, prideful, greedy, lustful and hurtful thoughts and behavior. This friend never brings us down; this friend calls us to something higher. This friend seems to bring something from beyond oneself into oneself.

“The Word of God is alive,” says a Casting Crowns song, “and it cuts like a sword through the darkness with a message of life to the hopeless . . . bringing life to all who believe.” The song is speaking of the written Word — the Bible. I think of it more broadly, as the Word referring to Jesus and to the His Spirit within each of us.

God’s Spirit is alive inside the believer. This Spirit cuts through the darkness of the world even though not completely dispersing the night of evil, sin, pain and hurt. The Spirit brings hope to the hopeless, and we are all hopeless at times. The Spirit brings life, and we all feel spiritually, mentally and emotionally dead at times. Life wins when it is invested with love — love that flows from God to us and from us to each other.

Evangelism is part of ethical living

Living the Christian life is not just about morals; it includes sharing the love of Jesus Christ in hopes that others will choose to follow Christ. We call it evangelism — sharing the good news.

It may seem a little strange to say ethics includes evangelism, but it shouldn’t. Ethics is about doing what is right, about doing what we ought to do. After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) There also is his Great Commission to, “Go therefore and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:19).

Ethical living for the Christian, therefore, involves evangelistic living. A related hope is that our evangelism will be pursued in an ethical manner that respects the value of all people and the freedom God has given them to choose whom they will serve, to use Joshua’s language.

We Baptists and other evangelicals are not alone in understanding the evangelistic imperatives of the body of Christ. The Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops just completed an assembly with the theme “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” and one of the wonderful things about this assembly was that a representative of the Baptist World Alliance was invited to speak.

Timothy George spoke to the bishops. George is dean and professor of divinity, history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School in Alabama. He also is chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Christian Unity and a member of the Advisory Committee of the BWA Division of Mission, Evangelism and Theological Reflection.

Dean George had three points:

“First, Baptists confess with all Christians a robust faith in the one triune God who in his great mercy and love has made us partakers of his divine life through Jesus Christ, the Great Evangelizer, who saves us by his grace alone. This faith is based on the inspired Holy Scriptures, God’s written Word, especially on the primal confession of St. John’s Gospel, … ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). …

“Second, the missionary God who gave the church this commission also placed before her an imperative for Christian unity. We are not only to proclaim the Good News to all peoples but to do it in a way that visibly reflects the unity and love between the Father and the Son. … By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 20:21; 13:35). … Where our witness is fractured, our message is unpersuasive, if not inaudible. Baptists and Catholics differ on important ecclesial and theological issues but we are committed to seek greater mutual understanding through a process of loving dialogue and respectful listening. …

“Third, throughout our history Baptists have been ardent champions of religious freedom, not only for ourselves, but for all persons everywhere. … Today in many places, religious freedom is under assault in many ways—some blatant and others more subtle. All Christians who take seriously Jesus’ call to evangelize must also stand and work together for the protection and flourishing of universal religious freedom, both for individuals and for institutions of faith.”

George’s final comment is important to note. We do not always make the connection between religious freedom and evangelism, but the former makes possible the flourishing of the latter.

A prayer: Help us, Lord, to understand that evangelism is part of ethical living, and help us to share our faith in ways that honor You and do not discredit You. We pray for unity among all Christians even as we have disagreements. And, Lord, we ask that religious freedom may spread throughout this world in order that Your Son may be more widely proclaimed.

Strange things hide in dark places

Life is full of little surprises. My 18-year-old daughter got such a shock the other day. She came in from school, turned the oven to preheat, and pulled a frozen mini-pizza out of the frig.

A few minutes later the buzzer sounded to declare the oven ready at 350 degrees. With pizza on pan, my daughter opened the oven only to find that something else already was cooking — our toaster. I can happily report to you that a Hamilton-Beach Model 24508 four-slice toaster can survive extreme heat. The plastic shell and the electrical wiring didn’t melt, but the metal part was very hot, as my daughter can attest.

With two cooking gloves as if seizing a cooked turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, she removed the well-baked toaster from the oven. Not, of course, until she had photographed it for Facebook submission. That’s how I learned of the event.

So, how did that toaster come to be in the most unlikely of places, a place where no one in our family had ever seen a toaster before?

Well, I don’t want to throw anyone in our family under the proverbial bus, but we hosted a wedding shower Sunday afternoon. Cleaning, of course, precedes any entertaining, and sometimes there simply is not enough room for the stuff that normally finds residence on the counter. I actually think it was quite a creative approach to an age-old problem.

So, what’s the moral of this story? Be careful what you try to hide because someone is liable to find out and then tell the world about it via Facebook, and then your goose is cooked. (I couldn’t help using the pun.)

All of that was in good fun, but there is a serious principle behind this. Jesus said: “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:20-21, NRSV)

A prayer: Help us, Lord, to live lives that are more and more fit for the light of day to shine upon them and to reveal their deeds.

May we, Lord, be more like Jesus

Opening an old book is like opening a treasure chest. When it comes to old non-fiction, it’s like stepping back in time to see what someone had to say and how they said. It may be something we have culturally forgotten.

I went back 87 years the other day to Ernest Ward Burch’s The Ethical Teaching of the Gospels, published in 1925. Here are some of his words, coupled with my passing thoughts and prayers:

“Jesus was more than a teacher of morals. He was a moral leader. Men who committed his teaching to writing and at the same time revealed their impressions of his personality assure their readers that the man was indeed the message.” (13)

Today we quote Jesus’ words, but our thoughts also are captured by the images painted by the gospel writers. We can visualize Jesus healing countless people, confronting the woman at the well, tossing the money changers from the temple, weeping over a friend’s death, and hanging on a cross. There is a great lesson hear for those who speak much about God.May our lives proclaim the same message.

“The power to produce an ethical behavior of effective and constructive standard is the spirit of a man, itself under the power of a controlling force other than the man himself but closely identified with him.” (121, referring to Matthew 15)

The will of the Father guided Jesus, but we struggle to give over our wills to the Father. May we be more closely identified with the Holy Other.

“The moral thought of Jesus was not cast into any system. His was not the type of mind that delights in logical refinements, but, rather, he is seen to be a social prophet, busy in shepherding the neglected and in encouraging the poor and the disheartened. …

“The moral principles of Jesus have sometimes been systematized by later writers, but he himself appears in the Gospels to be the minister of all, whose eye was clear for the discernment of any need that was buttressed by faith, whose ear was attentive to the sigh of discouragement and to the faint cry for help. Jesus was, it may be, the poet of the waving wheat, of the rippling wave, of the lily of the field, of the falling sparrow, whose tragedy was not lost upon his Father, and of the glistening raindrop or the shining sun, which betokened to him the generous provision of God for his enemies as well as his friends. But the mind of Jesus was not that of the systematic teacher.”  (233-234)

And in those words Burch uses the English language in a beautiful refrain that often is missing from more contemporary writers. May we also have clear eyes for the discernment of need and have attentive ears to the sighs of discouragement and to the faint cries for help.

Jesus is the poet of our lives, speaking beauty into the ugly and magnificence into the mundane. May we allow the Divine Poet to speak through us, as well.

Maston, on how to glorify God

The Christian’s highest motivation in life should be to glorify God, said the late Baptist ethicist, T. B. Maston.

Scripture reveals two concepts concerning the glory of God, Maston wrote in his book, Why Live the Christian Life?. First, it frequently involved “some physical phenomenon” indicating God’s presence. Second, it involved God’s moral excellence or character, which is particularly important in understanding the Christian life.

“God’s radiance and splendor are most fully revealed by his character,” Maston said. So, how do we bring glory to God?

Jesus, in Matthew 5:16, said: “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

We glorify God by letting our light shine before others. “A light does not shine to call attention to itself,” Maston said. “It shines that others may be seen. The Christian does not carry a light; he is a light, the light of the world.”

Then, Maston added, “We shine only to the degree that we permit the Divine Inner Light to touch and transform our lives.”

That is what motivates us — growing in our relationship with God so that others will give glory to God, who is shaping us and who can shape them.

Better ethics rules needed at all levels of government

Ethical standards can be high or low. The following activities were considered ethical by the offending members of Congress, according to a story in The Washington Post:

“A California congressman helped secure tax breaks for racehorse owners — then purchased seven horses for himself when the new rules kicked in.

“A Wyoming congresswoman co-sponsored legislation to double the life span of federal grazing permits that ranchers such as her husband rely on to feed cattle.

“And a Pennsylvania congressman co-sponsored a natural gas bill as Exxon Mobil negotiated a deal that paid millions for his wife’s shares in two natural gas companies founded by her great-great-grandfather.”

Such stories tend to confirm our fears about many who represent us in government. It appears these members of Congress did nothing considered wrong under the ethical rules they have established for themselves.

As you would expect, the three incidents noted above are not the only questionable activities the Post uncovered. They were “among 73 members of Congress who have sponsored or co-sponsored legislation in recent years that could benefit businesses or industries in which either they or their family members are involved or invested.” That’s 73 out of the 535 members of the House and Senate.

“The practice is both legal and permitted under the ethics rules that Congress has written for itself, which allow lawmakers to take actions that benefit themselves or their families except when they are the lone beneficiaries. The financial disclosure system Congress has implemented also does not require the legislators to identify potential conflicts at the time that they take official actions that intersect or overlap with their investments.”

“Members of Congress contact the House and Senate ethics offices thousands of times each year to seek legal advice on a range of activities, including their work on legislation that might pose a conflict. Between 2007 and 2011, lawyers for the two committees issued at least 2,800 written opinions to lawmakers, sent 6,500 e-mails containing advice and provided guidance over the phone 40,000 times, according to records kept by the two committees.

“The committees rarely discipline their own, instead providing advisory opinions that generally give support and justification to lawmakers who take actions that intersect with their personal financial holdings, according to interviews with nearly a dozen ethics experts and government watchdog groups. And though Congress has required top executive branch officials to divest themselves of assets that may present a conflict, lawmakers have not asked the same of themselves.”

It’s time we had better rules for all lawmakers at all levels of government–from the president to school board members. With tighter rules about profiting from government work, we might get more lawmakers committed to the promoting the common good, not their personal and family wealth.

By the way, the guy who bought the horses is no longer in Congress. He now works for a “large lobbying firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, whose client list is broad and in recent years has included gambling companies that own racetracks, lobbying records show.”